17 February 2012

a defining moment

i have been starting this post over and over for the last fifteen minutes or so.  nothing i write seems to convey what i want to say.  i feel, at times, that there will never be a way past this.  this isn't the first time i have sat down to write about that night.  but nothing ever comes out (at least not anything i'm satisfied with).  it feels like it was yesterday in all the wrong ways but i'm missing most of the details; everything is out of order and blurry. 

this is the first instance in my life when it has been easier for me to talk about my feelings out loud than to put them onto paper.  i do not remember ever fluctuating so much between trying to express and repress.  this one memory has defined my relationship with writing (and everything else) for over five years.  this is my everest.  i know the experience will leave me bloody and bruised so i have been using my favorite coping mechanism…avoidance.

however, keeping myself from writing means denying much more than expression.  i tend to process by writing, reading and editing words on a page in an attempt to perfectly articulate my experiences.  so if i'm not writing i'm not probably not dealing with it at all.  in my head writing about it will make it real.  at this very moment i am terrified to dig into the depths of my memory making a mess of things. 

five years is a long time to keep something inside.  i feel like you can see it written on my face.  there is a visible difference in my appearance; i am rigid and stiff, my skin is pale and thin, there is no twinkle in my eye.  i may as well be wearing a billboard, although most people probably wouldn't notice the difference - or maybe they can't be bothered to, i'm not sure which anymore.  needless to say, there have been very few people who have actually commented on my somewhat apparent transition.

here i am sitting in front of the screen staring, reading, and editing. a another half hour has passed and i have written four paragraphs containing 323 words.  not one says anything about my intended topic.  (fuck!)

i can't explain what happened that day.  suddenly i melted.  it came out of nowhere.  it may be hard to imagine but i was just as surprised as everyone else.  the feeling came over me in a flash and i lost all control.  i thought i was dying as every experience i'd ever had played at warp-speed and i sat paralyzed watching, speechless. 

except, that is not really true.  i was communicating verbally.  through sobs came words.  that is certain.  and i was moving; violently, in a way most would probably describe as thrashing. i remember your arm. i remember looking at myself losing control in the mirror. i remember seeing the look on my mother's face as she watched me fall to pieces from the back seat. 

this cannot be real.  i know how to get through this.  i am a professional with almost ten years of experience helping others go deal with this.  my toolbox is full but still i can't make it through by myself?!  unfortunately, no matter what is in my possession it will never be enough. (fuck!)  i need help.  this is terrifying.

we turn the corner and i can see our house.  before i know what is happening i am inside and locked in the bathroom.  i am hysterical.  my entire shirt is wet - covered in a mixture of tears and sweat.  it is difficult to see or even open my eyes; i can feel that they are swollen and bloodshot. 

as i rock back in forth i can feel the cold, hard enamel of the tub against my skin.  each movement causes bits of flesh to stick or peel from the surface.  i want out and do my best to gain control but minutes turn into hours and if i get up or open the door it all starts over again. 

eventually i make it through to the next room and i see her sitting on the other side waiting for me.  at this point she looks worse than i do and i can't help but start to feel guilty.  i had worked so hard to keep the truth from hurting her but she was right here in agony with me.  she says she's sorry and starts to cry.  (this makes it worse - everything she does makes it worse.)

now we sit and for the first time since we got home i try to speak.  most of what comes out of my mouth is comprehensible.  it consists only of loud sobs mashed together with words.  most of it is misdirected anger.  at the time i remember being very upset with myself for not being able to control myself enough to communicate but looking back i am grateful that neither my mother nor my brother could understand.  i was full of hurt. 

then, just as quickly as i had lost control it was regained.  i finally was able to get it out.  i was raped by my boyfriend's best friend.  it was three years earlier.  we were at a party and pretty much everyone we knew was there.  it was the summer when all we did was camp at the lake.  i don't remember why but that night we were celebrating.

as we continued on into the night things became more and more uncomfortable.  i grew more and more tense and eventually started to actively avoid him.  he was inappropriate; he said things that made my stomach turn and kept invading my space.  at one point i even asked my friends to help keep him away from me. 

later a few of us were in the camper.  i think we were playing cribbage.  i went outside to pee.  he came around the corner as i was pulling up my pants.  i fought instinctively with everything i had but there was no way for me to escape.  he was huge and his hand was in my pants but it wasn't enough.  what he wanted inside of was me.

my feet dangled as he pressed his arm into my shoulders and my back against the wall.  i tried to kick but somehow he was in control of my every movement.  i lost track of time and cannot remember what happened, then suddenly everything stopped.  i went to my tent and waited, and waited.

i wanted my boyfriend.  i needed him to make me feel safe again.  i didn't want to tell anyone but him.  but he never came.  he never came and i never left.  (i found out later that he was cheating on me with one of his ex-girlfriends.)  in the morning i woke up, packed my belongings, and left.  no one else was up or saw me leave.  i hadn't seen anyone since it happened and i wanted to keep it that way. 

when i pulled up to the house my mom was sitting on the porch swing reading and i wanted to tell her everything.  instead i said that 'we' had been in a fight and that was why i was upset.  i felt guilty for lying to her.  (that maybe the moment i entered denial).  i went to take a shower and wash my clothes.  after that i slept and slept and slept.  i didn't leave my room the entire next day.

on monday i went into work at a support center for sexual assault and domestic violence victims.   i wanted to tell my co-workers but it was complicated and messy.  some of them were my mom's friends and/or my friend's mom.  my mom had been a volunteer there my entire life (which made things worse).  she ran the victim support group that i would have went to.

i felt like telling people would be an imposition so i didn't.  it was easy to keep it inside because i was full of shame.  the last thing i wanted anyone to know was how violated i had been.  if they knew i would have to relive what happened whenever i saw them.  i hated the thought.  at first i tried to be aware of my actions and how my emotions were impacting them.  i knew what to expect and would deal with issues as needed.  however, this was a nearly impossible task; one which i gave up on.

i grew to despise everyone.  no one understood me anymore and everything was different.  i couldn't have fun with anyone and relating on even a basic level was nearly impossible.  i started to work up the courage to tell my boyfriend.  once i did that things were somewhat better.  he was (on the surface) supportive and understanding.  (later i also found out he'd continued their friendship.)  i started to think i felt normal again.

more time passed and i broke up with my boyfriend (when i found out about the cheating).  i moved away, got a new job, and started a new life.  i didn't think about it or talk about it to anyone and eventually i really felt like it didn't happen.  i thought was finally able to be happy again … that is until you reached in front of my face and i had flashback.

after that happened i went to a counselor.  i read the books and did the things she suggested - i counted my breaths, did yoga, and tried to re-find my center.  i hated every minute of it.  sometimes i'd get so uncomfortable that i'd stop for days and then, unintentionally start practicing again (mostly to avoid panic).  i was still a mess.

one of the things that she told me (over and over) was that i was the only one who could tell my story - that i controlled the ending.  but i did not believe her.  i kept failing even though i was doing everything i could. (how could i if i couldn't even write?) i quit trying and started distracting myself.  reasons to write (and things to work out) popped up and finally i got to the root of everything.  it turned out i was right (and so was my counselor). 

this was one of the reasons it was so hard for me to seek help.  i spent all those years teaching women that they had everything they needed to heal themselves, they just needed to find it.  i had to learn that i too have the tools i need.  when i thought they were gone i had stored them in my heart but went looking for them inside my head. i had to find them to be open and honest about this (and everything else for that matter).   as it stands, i still get tense and sometimes can't breathe…but now i also write.


  1. this is really well written. powerful expression and sad. i can feel the pain in your words. but at the same time i cant imagine this experience. i am sorry.

    1. i really appreciate you saying that as every time i open the document i immediately see things to change and corrections to be made - this is still pretty raw, but i think it could definitely be something.

      also, writing about stuff works for me (really). so this was more than anything healing - not painful at all. i cried a lot when i wrote it, but feel like the tears were for me then (both times) not me now. i don't think that i'll ever be able to say 'i'm grateful for that experience because it made me who i am.' but i feel like this was a step in that direction.

  2. I have not written in 9 years now. I am honestly scared to. Like, downright terrified. I wish I could find that strength that you did.